Pitchers and catchers report on Thursday. Boston College and Northeastern visit City of Palms Park on March 3. Exhibition games begin in earnest on March 4 against Minnesota in the first bout of the annual Mayor's Cup.
Spring training statistics usually don't mean anything. A 4-for-4 performance for a no-name minor leaguer on a Tuesday afternoon in Clearwater or Port Charlotte usually doesn't mean much. Occasionally, very occasionally, a few big days in a row can be a sign of things to come -- and that's enough to make fans pore through the spring training statistics in hopes of picking up the next player on the rise before he starts rising.
Such was the case last year. At one end of the spectrum:
Jeff Bailey (45 at-bats): .356/.455/.600
Chris Carter (76 at-bats): .355/.380/.658
Nick Green (63 at-bats): .349/.414/.524
None of the three did much at the plate with the Red Sox, though Green started off hot in April and May before his impatience at the plate caught up with him.
At the other end of the spectrum:
Jason Bay (44 at-bats): .227/.364/.545
David Ortiz (40 at-bats): .250/.392/.500
Jason Varitek (51 at-bats): .216/.241/.549
Kevin Youkilis (30 at-bats): .233/.343/.333
Ortiz actually hit worse in April and May than he had in spring training. Varitek actually OBP'ed .348 in April and had hit 10 home runs by May 31 before his numbers went into a tailspin.
Youkilis, for his part, didn't see his batting average drop below .400 until April 30 and didn't see his on-base percentage drop below .500 until after a stint on the disabled list in mid-May.
And then there's:
Lars Anderson (24 at-bats): .208/.321/.208
In far too small of a sample size to make any pronouncements, Anderson nonetheless gave the first indication that he was not about to explode onto the scene as the next elite prospect. He'll be a player whose spring training numbers this season once again will be overanalyzed despite a sample size too small for any actual analysis.
Pitchers' numbers often can be more telling, especially the strikeout and walk numbers that don't depend so much on luck. Among Red Sox pitchers last spring:
Jon Lester (19 2/3 IP): 1.83 ERA, 20 K, 11 BB
Clay Buchholz (25 IP): 2.52 ERA, 19 K, 4 BB
Josh Beckett (27 2/3 IP): 3.25 ERA, 17 K, 5 BB
Buchholz stands out, just as he stood out last spring. His ERA actually was 0.46 at one point before a scuffle at the end of the spring. He then dominated the Triple-A International League until the Red Sox called him up.
On the other hand:
Tim Wakefield (15 IP): 5.40 ERA, 11 K, 8 BB
Manny Delcarmen (13 2/3 IP): 4.61 ERA, 9 K, 6 BB
Ramon Ramirez (12 1/3 IP): 4.38 ERA, 12 K, 3 BB
One could make an argument that the above three pitchers were among the most valuable on the Red Sox staff in April and May. Delcarmen didn't allow his first earned run until May 3. Ramirez didn't allow his first earned run until May 4. Wakefield almost threw a no-hitter in Oakland on April 15 and ended up earning a spot on the American League All-Star team.
All three tailed off later in the season. Their subpar numbers in spring training, though, didn't come close to forecasting pitchers who would throw darts at the start of the season.
The lesson here? There are times when excellent spring training numbers can tell a story, just as they did for Buchholz a season ago. There are times when lousy spring training numbers can be a bad omen, as they were for Anderson a year ago.
Mostly, spring training numbers don't tell much of a story at all. Established players are trying to get into a rhythm. Young players often are trying too hard to impress. Injured players aren't trying to do anything except healthy.
Still, though, it's fun to look at.